My team at Content BLVD recently embarked on a research initiative with the goal of uncovering the emotional traits of today’s YouTube influencers. Our goal was to help our customers, consumer product companies, to better understand this new generation of mini-celebrities in order to foster more productive collaborations between product companies and YouTube creators.
We interviewed 30 YouTuber influencers to better understand what they’re like, and what makes them tick. Our key findings were that keeping it real, being authentic, and serving their audiences were their top priorities. Let’s have a look at what we found, and postulate on what these discoveries mean for brands and marketers interested in working with these new media stars.
Who are these YouTube Stars?
Outside of the fact that the vast majority of YouTubers are under 40 years of age, the YouTubers with whom we spoke fit almost no standard demographic norm. While this isn’t revelatory, it is still actionable in terms of outreach and, especially, tone. Our recommendation here is to keep your tone when approaching this younger audience light but serious, understanding, and most importantly, refrain from condescension.
Takeaway: YouTubers are not professional journalists, nor do they behave like professional journalists. But they want to be respected just the same. And they take great offense at condescension (even if they deserve it) largely due to their age.
Keeping it Real
The emotional dynamics of the YouTubers are remarkably consistent given their varied ethnic backgrounds, demographics, and work experiences. When asked what made their channels unique, most YouTubers responded with similar answers, presenting themselves in an honest and authentic manner; this might be expressed as ‘being real’ for a YouTube creator.
They invest time and personal resources into their work, and they want to be recognized for it. However, ‘being real’ to their audiences often means being casual, at times even flippant. This creates an interesting paradox in how YouTubers operate - their online personas, for better or worse, are why their subscribers continue to engage them. However, such a presentation style isn’t always in alignment with a brand’s goals for placing a product into a video. Additionally, the market is witnessing some popular YouTubers experiencing pushback from their audiences for coming across as overly sponsored.
Takeaway: According to Google, influencers are responsible for more than $500 billion in consumer spending. Their authenticity is what gives them so much power to influence consumer buying behavior. We recommend that you provide some creative direction when working with YouTubers, but let them have the final say with regard to how they speak about your products in their videos. They built the audience your brand is trying to reach. And they know what type of content the audience likes, and does not like.
At Content BLVD, we enable our product companies to provide just the right amount of creative direction via our Product Brief feature. It provides room for companies to highlight 3 talking points that differentiate your product from competing products, and 3 tips for how to get the best use of the product before producing a video about it. We recommend that you use a similar approach when contacting YouTubers for product reviews.
YouTube Stars & Money
YouTubers also have a straightforward but double-sided relationship with money they might derive from their online work. Not a single YouTuber with whom we spoke cited money as the reason they created their first video, and they almost universally cited other motivations for continuing with their efforts. No YouTuber with whom we spoke feels entitled to be paid for this work beyond an equal return for the time and energy invested in their production. Yet, just as universally, they would all like to make money doing it.
Let that point sink in – virtually none do it for the money, yet they all want to make money doing it. In fact, over half would like to earn a full-time income as a content creator.
Like all social media influencers, YouTubers have become increasingly popular among product companies looking to reach the millennial demographic. Many companies are throwing money at YouTube stars which creates competition and drives up sponsorship costs. There will always be opportunities to secure unpaid reviews, but the more popular influencers are going to have the option to get paid for working with brands, and may be less enthusiastic about spending 7 to 10 hours producing a video for a company that isn’t offering any monetary reward for their work.
Takeaway: This means there will be more legwork involved in securing true earned mentions from noteworthy channels on YouTube.
YouTubers Live to Serve Their Audiences
So what could be their main motivation for making YouTube videos? Serving their audiences. This is a corollary to being honest and authentic. The reason YouTubers work with companies at all is a byproduct of their desire to deliver value to their subscribers.
Many of these YouTubers started out (and many continue today) buying products themselves to feature in their videos. They are universally passionate about the genre of products they feature, and they produce videos with the intent of helping others. Even for those YouTubers outside of the product review space, such as a comedy channel, a partnership with a brand is still seen as a means to fuel content for the sake of the audience. This need to fuel non-stop demands for content lies at the heart of YouTubers working with product companies: it’s not about getting one’s hands on products for selfish reasons, it’s about getting material to serve the audience’s thirst for fresh content.
Takeaway: With more than 1 million channels on YouTube dedicated to product reviews, there are virtually endless opportunities to get your product featured by channels looking for a product like yours to share with their audiences. However, we recommend that you work with an influencer platform or an agency to curate these channels. Otherwise the search cost is enormous. Approaching YouTubers in the wild with the goal of finding channels to review your product is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. It can be done, but it is not the best use of your time.
YouTubers Serve brands as a Secondary Priority
After serving their audiences, creating win-win outcomes was a universal goal of YouTubers when working with brands. While the first ‘win’ comes in the form of a monetary benefit (not necessarily cash from the brand itself – this could also include YouTube ad revenue as a byproduct of views), the second ‘win’ comes from satisfying the brand. Nearly all YouTubers defined a successful engagement with a brand as producing a longer-term working relationship.
YouTubers largely feel that they know best; that they know how to connect with their audiences better than a brand could. Accordingly, all YouTubers desire creative control over their content, including any work with a brand. They take offense to heavy-handed brand messaging. Yet, they do want a brand to be satisfied with the final product once it comes out. This is a nuanced emotion, for the YouTubers seem to like a small amount of input from the partner company, especially information that will help them produce quality content. But too much creative direction from outside sources is viewed as a significant annoyance. In particular many YouTubers feel that product companies expect too much for too little. The quality of a product video feature is most often directly proportional to how the YouTuber values the product personally.
Beyond the context of working with a brand, YouTubers equate success with feeling appreciated, receiving recognition, and growing their subscriber counts. YouTubers we spoke with don’t view themselves as experts; they are just ‘regular people’ (in their own words). They value their online friendships and interactions with the community. They desire to continue improving at their craft. For those whose personal aspirations for their online work did not include earning a full-time income, growing one’s subscriber count was central to perceptions of personal success. And even for those more motivated by financial gains, growth in audience size was similarly recognized as a means to achieve those goals.
Takeaway: Provide YouTube influencers with the information they need to portray accurate information about your product, but give them creative control so that the outcome is a triple win. Who wins? First you, the brand, get the benefit of increased audience engagement. Audiences don’t want to watch commercials, or anything that resembles a commercial for a brand or product. Second, the audience wins because they get to hear honest opinions about new products from people they trust. And the YouTuber wins because he/she was able to share an honest opinion about your product, and wasn’t forced to compromise his/her authenticity to make you happy.
Here’s a cheat sheet to summarize our emotional discoveries.
YouTuber Emotional Cheat-sheet
- YouTubers strive to be honest and authentic
- Do not want their informality mistaken for unprofessionalism
- Want their hard work to be recognized
- Almost no YouTubers work for money but all would like to make money
- YouTubers’ primary goal is to serve their audience
- YouTubers want long-term, win-win relationships with brands
- YouTubers want creative control over their content
- YouTubers perceive themselves as ‘regular people’ – not as experts.